Reclaiming the Evenki Narrative: Last Shaman’s Daughter Tells her People’s 20th-century Tale

There are only 30,000 or so Evenki (鄂温克族) on the Chinese side of the Sino-Russian border. But this Tungusic-speaking, reindeer-herding people — particularly the group known as the Aoluguya Evenki — has been the subject of several award-winning documentaries and even a novel that won the Mao Dun Literature Prize in 2008. According to an article on the China Writer’s Association web site (最后一位萨满之女), a new novel featuring the Evenki will launch end April.

During 2007-14, Gu Tao (顾桃) shot five films documenting the twilight of the Evenki way of life, including Yuguo and his Mother (雨果的假期) and The Last Moose of Aoluguya (犴达罕). (For an excellent backgrounder on his works in French, click here) Chi Zijian’s novel, The Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸), is based loosely on the same tribe’s often reluctant interactions with outsiders, first with the Japanese invaders under “Manchukuo,” and then the rapacious Han loggers and Marxist cadres of post-1949 “New China,” and has been translated into English (my version), Dutch, Italian, Spanish and Japanese, and will soon be available in French.

驯鹿角上的色带But take note: Neither Gu Tao and Chi Zijian are Evenki, though the former’s mother is Manchu (according to BBC’s web site). As far I know, their works have largely been well received in China, but they are not without potential controversy. I have watched several of Gu Tao’s documentaries on a set of CDs (not sure if these are final versions shown at film festivals abroad), and at times they are disturbing, the raw footage of some hard-drinking Evenki in particular. Chi Zijian’s novel is a bold experiment in its own right, as she, a monolingual Han writer, puts herself inside the head of the female Evenki narrator and recounts the entire tale in the first person.

In both cases, I can’t help wondering how these works of art would be viewed by indigenous peoples in Australia, Canada or the US, where “reclaiming the narrative” back from one’s colonizers is nowadays considered absolutely imperative. [Read more…]

Jusup Mamay, Manaschi: A Rehabilitated Rightist and his Turkic Epic

A while back I stumbled upon a short Chinese news item about a newly discovered handwritten manuscript of the Kyrgyz Epic of Manas (玛纳斯史诗). This centuries-old trilogy in verse recounts the exploits of the legendary hero Manas, and his son and grandson in their struggle to resist external enemies and unite the Kyrgyz people. Along with heroic tales such as Dede Korkut and the Epic of Köroğlu, Manas is considered one of the great Turkic epic poems. To get a feeling for how it sounds, listen here to a brief recitation by Manas scholar Elmira Köçümkulkızı.

Mural of Manas in OshAccording to the report (手抄本被发现), a retired cadre named 吾米尔·毛力多 in Xinjiang’s Wuqia County recently donated a 570,000-line, Kyrgyz-language Manas libretto to the local branch of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles.

Based on the notes of a famous Manas storyteller or manaschi named 艾什玛特·玛木别朱素普, the text was painstakingly hand-copied by the cadre in the 1950s. At some point during the Cultural Revolution he learned the original had been seized and burnt, so he wrapped his own copy in several layers of cowhide and buried it in his courtyard for safekeeping.

“Now,” the news report quotes him, “I figure it is time to let this hand-copied manuscript see the light of day.”

Intrigued by the gap in time between the manuscript’s burial and its “re-discovery”— after all, the Cultural Revolution ended almost 40 years ago — I wondered why the text of an ancient Turkic epic like Manas is so politically sensitive. [Read more…]

List: Modern China-based Evenki Authors & Their Published Works

* Under Construction *

Modern China-based Evenki Authors &

Their Published Works

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 8.56.19 PMThis list is based mainly on authors published in 2015 in 《新时期中国少数民族文学作品选集·鄂温克族卷》(lit, Selected Fiction by Ethnic Minority Writers in the New Period, Evenki Volume, at left), but I’ve added in many of their other published short stories and novels. All links are to Chinese text unless the linked word is in English.

Although the Evenki live on both sides of the Amur, my list below covers only those in the PRC. Of course, there were Evenki poets born and raised in the Soviet Union, such as Alitet Nikolaevich Nemtushkin, and Nikolaĭ Oëgir, who both used an Evenki script developed in Soviet times.

If you’re keen to learn the current state of Evenki as a spoken language, see Tungusic Languages Under Threat. Evenki Place Names behind the Hànzì also makes interesting reading.

If you have anything to add or correct, please leave a comment!

阿日坤:

安娜: 访鄂温克族女作家安娜 . 《金霞和银霞》,《牧野上,她发现一颗星》,《牧野深处的眷恋》,《心波》,《飞驰的天使》,《芦苇荡的回声》,《哈迪姑姑》,《静谧的原野》,《欢腾的伊敏河》,《摇篮·摇篮曲》,《心潮》,《祝福您鄂温克》

娜仁托雅:

敖蓉: 鄂温克的气息.《神奇部落的神秘女人》,《映山红》,《古娜吉》

白淑琴:

道日娜:

德纯燕: 《美丽新世界》, 《初长成》, 《好时光》, 《旅行者》

德柯丽: 《小驯鹿的故事》 [Read more…]

Mapping Mongolian Music

In 蒙古音乐地图计划:如何面对外界错位的蒙古文化想象?Thepaper.cn reports on a young Chinese citizen of Mongolian heritage, Odon Tuya (敖登托雅) who has initiated her own “Mongolian Music Map Project” (蒙古音乐地图计划). Her aim: To document the current indie Mongolian music scene – including traditional musicians in Mongolian Music Mapplaces like Xinjiang – via published interviews and, eventually, to capture it on film. A writer and a music critic, she has already interviewed 150 musicians, agents, folk song scholars and fans, according to the report. Here’s an excerpt from the Jan 29 2016 interview conducted in Chinese (translation is mine):

Odon Tuya: Due to regional differences and local cultural history, there are many distinctions between musical categories. Differences in tribal culture exist not only in terms of language and dress; even music has been impacted. When you mention Mongolian music, many people think only of the horse-head fiddle [morin khuur or 马头琴], throat singing [hoomii or 呼麦 ] or long song [urtyn duu or 长调]. In fact, very few people have an understanding of the variety of musical types and instruments involved. Unity evolves and is based upon a foundation of collective characteristics and slight differences. Obscured cultural traditions and the Mongolian spirit [蒙古精神] are what is held in common; regional divergences are what has created such variety and richness . . . be it professional musicians or folk artists, and regardless of the musical genre or the instruments played, they represent the most intuitive manifestation of the Mongolian spirit.

Fiction Collections from Daur, Evenki and Oroqen Writers Launched

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 8.56.19 PMThree separate volumes of fiction in Chinese have just been published featuring the works of writers of three ethnic groups that have traditionally inhabited northeastern China and even further north in Siberia: the Daur, Evenki and Oroqen (Elunchun).

This is of interest because unlike ethnic groups like the Tibetans, Uyhgurs or Mongolians, none of the former languages has its own script and many of their speakers hardly spoke Chinese — much less wrote it — so until recently their tales were hardly available in print at all. The Daur speak a Mongolic tongue, while Evenki and Oroqen are Tungusic languages, the same family as Manchu.

Judging by the recent past, we can expect that some of these works — now that they are available in China’s national language — will gradually begin to appear in magazines specializing in Chinese literature in English translation, such as Pathlight. Up until now, English renditions of non-Han writers tended to focus on Tibetan, Uyghur and Mongolian originals.

The three volumes are part of a series available currently available only in Chinese, entitled 新时期中国少数民族文学作品选集, published by the Writers Publishing House (作家出版社). All three offer a retrospective of pieces published during 1976-2011, and at 400-plus pages, are pretty hefty tomes.

  • The Evenki volume (鄂温克族卷) contains 50 short stories and extracts from novels by 22 writers, including well-known authors 乌热尔图 (Ureltu, acknowledged pioneer of Evenki tales back in the 70s),涂志勇, 涂克冬·庆胜, 德纯燕, 德柯丽 and 娜仁托雅.
  • The Oroqen volume (鄂伦春族卷) contains 76 pieces, with short stories, extracts from novels and quite a bit of poetry by 敖长福, 孟代红, 刘晓春 and 刘晓红 and many other Oroqen writers. 
  • The Daur volume (达斡尔族卷) contains 50 pieces by 阿凤, 苏华, 苏莉, 晶达, 傲蕾伊敏, 赵国安 and安晓霞, and many other Daur writers. As the Daur often live in mixed ethnic environments, some pieces were written in Mongolian or other languages and translated into Chinese for this collection.

If you are interested in Chinese translations of fiction by Uyghur, Kazakh and Tibetan writers, see here.

Ethnic ChinaLit Excerpt of the Week: The Nightjar at Dusk (黄昏夜莺)

So now the escapee nightjar and I were conspirators. I had to stay patient and play my part in its plot.

We stood a while longer, though of course the urgent call did not sound.

But the boy stood there motionless, gazing up at the spot where the bird had once perched. He already had what a hunter needs most, patience.

My feet were growing numb and I, at least, knew there was no point in waiting further.

“Maybe it’s gone,” I said, gently breaking the silence.

He murmured assent and lowered his head, then when I said nothing went back to watching. It’s a battle of endurance sometimes, to see who can be most patient. I was happy to lose.

“I didn’t see it fly off,” he said, unwilling to give up.

“Maybe it was too quick. It’s too dark to see.” I had to put it like that, or risk insulting him.

“Can’t have.” He wasn’t happy about it, but knew there was no hope.

“What kind of bird was it, anyway?”

“A jokjok.”

I could tell he had never heard this Evenki word before. He had so little of our traditional knowledge, our language. He spoke even less than I did.

Much of our old ways will be lost forever with the passing away of our old folk.

 

Extract from The Nightjar at Dusk, Pathlight Spring 2015 (p 28), by Gerelchimig Blackcrane (格日勒其木格・黒鶴)

 

Profile: Xinjiang-based Uyghur Writer Perhat Tursun

In Meet China’s Salman Rushdie, Foreign Policy’s Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian profiles Xinjiang’s controversial Uyghur writer Perhat Tursun (پەرھات  تۇرسۇن, 帕尔哈提·吐尔逊):

Perhat is the author of The Art of Suicide [自杀的艺术], a novel decried as anti-Islamic that in 1999 set off a religious firestorm among Uighurs, the largely Muslim, Turkic minority concentrated in the nominally autonomous Chinese region of Xinjiang. What followed — years of threats, a de facto ban on Perhat’s works, and at least one book burning — belied the officially atheist ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, which tightly controls the region. But tidal forces of history and competing civilizations have clashed over Xinjiang in recent decades, pitting the party against a local ethnic reawakening, resurgent Islam, and the latest entrant to the region, liberal Western thought. And Perhat, with the publication of his bold philosophical novel, found himself wedged between hardening ideological fronts — a fault line that would put his life in danger.

A few links to his writing:

  • Poetry: Two poems, Elegy and Morning Feeling, in English here,  and a poem in Chinese, here.
  • An older interview with him in Chinese, 一位维吾尔族作家的穿越生活
  • A bilingual synopsis of his PhD thesis on HamsaNizamiddin Alshir Nawayi’s monumental five-part poem (尼扎木丁·艾利狮尔·纳瓦依的巨著《五卷长诗集》)

Meanwhile, Darren Byler — who translates from the Uyghur — reports that his translation of Perhat Tursun’s short story, Plato’s Shovel, is set for publication in a collection of translated writing by non-Han writers.  He is also working on the first part of a trilogy by the author, entitled The Big City: Backstreets. When I know the publication details, I’ll post them.

Mongolian Shaman Songs of Praise Rendered in Chinese

Two poets have collaborated to publish a book containing 29 renditions of songs of praise traditionally chanted by shaman. The original odes in Mongolian were first translated into Mandarin by Mongolian scholar Ni Ma (尼玛), and then polished by Xi Murong (席慕蓉), who also knows Mongolian but was educated in Taiwan. The book is published by the Ethnic Publishing House (北京民族出版社), according to a report in Chinawriter (萨满神歌).

Entitled 萨满神歌 (lit., sacred songs of the shaman), they offer praise mainly to mothers, and the spirits of mountains and rivers. Such songs are passed on orally and rarely written down.

Shaman and their lyrics do occasionally appear in 21st-century Chinese fiction, however. For example, here are three novels with key roles for shaman, the first below being Evenki (and a woman), while the latter two are Mongolian:

  • Last Quarter of the Moon by Chi Zijian (额尔古纳河右岸, 迟子建著)
  • Legend of Mongolia (蒙古往事, 冉平著)
  • Mongolia by Guo Xuebo (蒙古里亚, 郭雪波著). This is a powerful new semi-autobiographical work by an author who is the descendent of a line of shaman. I’m working now on an excerpt and hope to post in September.

Profile of Octogenarian Orochen: Folk Song Singer, Folk Tale and Dictionary Compiler

Among one of the first batches of young Orochen (鄂伦春) chosen to receive a formal Chinese-language education in Zhalantun in 1948, E’erdenggua (额尔登挂) was just 17 at the time. She had never been outside her village on the banks of Chuo’er River (绰尔河畔) in Inner Mongolia, and didn’t speak a word of Chinese. Now 84, she was recently profiled in Zhongguo Minzu Bao (老人的鄂伦春文化情缘).

Orochen songstress E'erdenggua (Note the teepee at right, traditional lodging for the Orochen and Evenki)

Orochen songstress E’erdenggua (Note the teepee at right, traditional lodging for the Orochen and Evenki)

Although she later held various jobs with the Bureau of Commerce in China’s first Orochen Autonomous Banner until retirement, she never lost interest in her native language or culture.  A brief list of her achievements as noted in the article:

Orochen dress: Personally handicrafted folk costumes and Shaman ritual attire that are now part of collections at the Beijing History Museum, Inner Mongolia Museum (Hohhot), Hulunbuir Ethnography Museum, Oroqen Museum (Hulunbuir) and Evenki Museum (Hulunbuir).

Folk songs: She compiled and sang Orochen folk songs. Designated as an expert regarding traditional hunting songs known as Zàndárén (赞达仁). Her collection includes love songs, narratives and shamanic chants.

Orochen dictionary: Spent 3 years compiling an Orochen dictionary using IPA. Unfortunately never published for lack of funding. [Read more…]

Inner Mongolian Artists Speak Up as Mining and Logging Encroach on Traditional Grazing Lands

Protests over land have occurred in several herding communities in Inner Mongolia during May and early June, according to RFA (Grassland Protests Spread). Ethnic Mongolian herders say access to traditional grazing land is increasingly being curtailed or permanently denied in favor of mining and logging projects, or highway construction. Inadequate or total lack of compensation for the land is also an issue.

Among the communities where protests have taken place are Tulee Gachaa, Mingren Som Township, Zaruud Banner and Ar-Horchin Banner. Arrests have been made, cell phones used by onlookers to shoot videos of police actions have been confiscated, and in one instance in Zaruud Banner, one herder was reportedly beaten unconscious by police and is “still receiving emergency medical treatment in the Zaruud Banner People’s Hospital,” according to the RFA report.

Unrest due to government-supported exploitation of Inner Mongolian natural resources is not a new phenomenon. Back in June 2011, a Han truck driver was found guilty of running over a Mongolian herder who was “blocking a road to protest environmental damage by trucks hauling coal,” and — in a move that shows how seriously the authorities viewed the large-scale protests at the time — the driver was sentenced to death (Truck Driver).

Angered by the news blackout that followed the herder’s violent death, and the way official propaganda has long sought to blame desertification of the grasslands on the Mongol’s traditional way of life, a young Mongolian rapper composed an emotional song in memory of the unfortunate herder — in Chinese — that went viral before it was deleted and/or firewalled by the authorities (献给草原英雄莫日根的歌):

Yo, I am a Mongol even if I sing my rap in Chinese
No matter what you say I am a Mongol
Mongol blood flows in my veins
[Read more…]